Various Traditions no. 18

The Mosaic Faith as a Legitimate Alternative!

The following notes are not intended to indicate any attempt to interfere with how Christians explain their own religion. The Pelagian heresy was a historical phenomenon that may be symptomatic of a previously existing religious and Cultural tradition. That is why it interests us. The Pelagian heresy gave equal status to the Mosaic Code (i.e. to Judaism) and Pelagius was a British Celt. We have shown in previous articles in this series that the Celts in the West practiced Druidism that was a mixture of Canaanite paganism and Hebrew tradition. We also showed how the Irish had a tradition that at least some of them kept the Mosaic Law before becoming Christians. We indicated that some of the evidence justifies this tradition and it is probably just as applicable to some of the Celts in Scotland and perhaps elsewhere in Britain. The existence of the Pelagian heresy in Britain does not of itself prove anything but it adds substance to the indicated probability of a Hebraic religious tradition existing among British Celtic peoples from before Christian times: As seen below:

From Norman Davies: Pelagius.
Pelagius (ca. 360 -420 c.e.) was a Welshman or at least a Celt from the British Isles. His name Pelagius is a Graeco-Roman form of his surname, Morgan, meaning "Son of the Sea". His friends called him "Brito". . At the Council of Carthage (after 410 ce) six cardinal errors of Pelagius and his friend Celestius, were condemned:
1. That Adam would have died even if he had not sinned.
2. That Adam injured himself not the human race.
3. That newborn children like Adam himself are without sin.
4. That the human race does not die through Adam's sin.
5.That the Law as well as the Gospel gives entrance to heaven.
6. That there were men without sin even before Christ's coming.
Source: Norman Davies, "Europe. A History", NY 1996.

PELAGIUS c.355 - c.435

PELAGIUS c.355 - c.435

British Theologian Pelagius was a monk from Britain. He went to Rome where he was distressed by the moral decay of many Roman Christians. He blamed Rome's moral laxity on the doctrine of divine grace promulgated by Augustine. Pelagius reasoned that if a man were not himself responsible for his good or evil deeds, there was nothing to restrain him from indulgence in sin. Pelagius held that the human will is free to do good or evil, and that divine grace only facilitates what the will can do itself. After the fall of Rome to the Visigoths Pelagius went first to Africa, and then to Palestine. After attacks from Augustine and Jerome, Pelagius was condemned as a heretic .

Pelagius and Pelagianism

Selected Extracts from: Catholic Encyclopedia

 Pelagius and Pelagianism

Pelagianism received its name from Pelagius and designates a heresy of the fifth century, which denied original sin as well as Christian grace. Life and Writings of Pelagius Apart from the chief episodes of the Pelagian controversy, little or nothing is known about the personal career of Pelagius. It is only after he bade a lasting farewell to Rome in A. D. 411 that the sources become more abundant; but from 418 on history is again silent about his person. As St. Augustine (De peccat. orig., xxiv) testifies that he lived in Rome "for a very long time", we may presume that he resided there at least since the reign of Pope Anastasius (398-401). But about his long life prior to the year 400 and above all about his youth, we are left wholly in the dark. Even the country of his birth is disputed. While the most trustworthy witnesses, such as Augustine, Orosius, Prosper, and Marius Mercator, are quite explicit in assigning Britain as his native country, as is apparent from his cognomen of Brito or Britannicus, Jerome (Praef. in Jerem., lib. I and III) ridicules him as a "Scot" (loc. cit., "habet enim progeniem Scoticae gentis de Britannorum vicinia"), who being "stuffed with Scottish porridge" (Scotorum pultibus proegravatus) suffers from a weak memory. Rightly arguing that the "Scots" of those days were really the Irish, H. Zimmer ("Pelagius in Ireland", p.20, Berlin, 1901) has advanced weighty reasons for the hypothesis that the true home of Pelagius must be sought in Ireland, and that he journeyed through the southwest of Britain to Rome. Tall in stature and portly in appearance (Jerome, loc. cit., "grandis et corpulentus"), Pelagius was highly educated, spoke and wrote Latin as well as Greek with great fluency and was well versed in theology. Though a monk and consequently devoted to practical asceticism, he never was a cleric; for both Orosius and Pope Zosimus simply call him a "layman". In Rome itself he enjoyed the reputation of austerity, while St. Augustine called him even a "saintly man", vir sanctus: Six theses of Caelestius [friend and pupil of Pelagius ] - perhaps literal extracts from his lost work "Contra traducem peccati" - were branded as heretical. These theses ran as follows:
1. Even if Adam had not sinned, he would have died.
2. Adam's sin harmed only himself, not the human race.
3. Children just born are in the same state as Adam before his fall.
4. The whole human race neither dies through Adam's sin or death, nor rises again through the resurrection of Christ.
5. The (Mosaic Law) is as good a guide to heaven as the Gospel.
6. Even before the advent of Christ there were men who were without sin.
On account of these doctrines, which clearly contain the quintessence of Pelagianism, Caelestius was summoned to appear before a synod at Carthage (411); but he refused to retract them. But the heresy continued to smoulder in the West and died our very slowly. The main centres were Gaul  and Britain. About Gaul we are told that a synod, held probably at Troyes in 429, was compelled to take steps against the Pelagians. It also sent Bishops Germanus of Auxerre and Lupus of Troyes to Britain to fight the rampant heresy, which received powerful support from two pupils of Pelagius, Agricola and Fastidius.  Almost a century later, Wales was the centre of Pelagian intrigues. In Ireland also Pelagius's "Commentary on St. Paul", described in the beginning of this article, was in use long afterwards, as is proved by many Irish quotations from it. Even in Italy traces can be found, not only in the Diocese of Aquileia, but also in Middle Italy; for the so-called "Liber Praedestinatus", written about 440 perhaps in Rome itself, bears not so much the stamp of Semipelagianism as of genuine Pelagianism

JOSEPH POHLE Transcribed by Anthony A. Killeen The Catholic Encyclopedia,
Volume XI  1911 by Kevin Knight

From the Web:
Coming to Rome c. 380, Pelagius, though not a priest, became a highly regarded spiritual director for both clergy and laymen, his closest  collaborator was a lawyer named Celestius. After the fall of Rome to the Visigoth chieftain Alaric in 410, Pelagius and Celestius went to Africa. There they encountered the hostile criticism of Augustine, who published several denunciatory letters concerning their Doctrine 'Pelagius left for Palestine c. 412... "The great German theologian Karl Barth a few years ago described British Christianity as "incurably Pelagian." The rugged individualism of the Celtic monk, his conviction that each person is free to choose between good and evil. And his insistence that faith must be practical as well as spiritual remain hallmarks of Christians in Britain... The British imagination has remained rooted in  nature, witnessed by the pastoral poetry and landscape panting in which Britain excels, indeed that peculiar British obsession with gardening is Celtic in origin. Visitors to the British Isles are often shocked at how few people attend church each Sunday. Yet to the Britons, church-goers as well as absentees, the primary test of faith is not religious  observance, but daily behavour towards our neighbours  and towards one's pets, livestock and plants." A.G.H.

Brit-Am Comment:

Some sources say that Pelagius was Welsh, others say he was Scottish. The notion that Pelagius was Irish is a modern one based on the fact that in those times the term "Scot" could also refer to someone from Ireland. The Scots had moved from Ireland to Scotland. There was a movement of peoples between Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Ireland, Scotland, and Wales in many ways were one cultural unity in the time of Pelagius. Pelagius and his friend Celestius apparently believed that the Mosaic Law was equally as good as the Christian one for the purposes of salvation. The doctrine of Pelagius remained strong in Celtic Gaul, in Wales and in Ireland. Pelagius may not have originated this doctrine but rather brought it with him from Britain. The doctrine may be seen as reflecting British reality. According to Gildas (500s CE) the Celts were identifiable with the Ancient Israelites. We saw that there is evidence that some of the Celts of Britain and Ireland had practiced aspects of the Mosaic Law before becoming Christians. We also saw that after they became Christians the Celts of Britain in some areas continued to practice in part the Laws of Moses. Pelagius saw the Law of Moses as being equal to Chritianity and he may have been reflecting the general attitude of his countrymen in parts of Britain at that time.

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